How a St. Paul limo driver saved a suicidal man’s life

St. Paul limo driver Chey Eisenman says she came upon a stranger contemplating suicide on the John Ireland Boulevard bridge.

St. Paul limo driver Chey Eisenman says she came upon a stranger contemplating suicide on the John Ireland Boulevard bridge. Google Earth

At 10:30 p.m. on a punishingly hot Saturday, limo driver Chey Eisenman had just dropped off a client when she parked her car and took a walk to clear her head.

She’d queued up her music and headed from the Cathedral of St. Paul toward the Minnesota State Capitol, walking along the John Ireland Boulevard bridge. That’s when she saw something odd on the sidewalk in front of her: a bike.

A nice one, too, by the look of it. She glanced around for the owner. That’s how she noticed the man sitting on the railing, his legs dangling down toward the traffic below.

Eisenman reached out and tapped him on the shoulder.

“Hey, are you okay?”

He paused and answered with an absent “yeah.”

“You realize now I have to be worried about you, right?” she said. “I can’t just leave you here.”

But the man on the bridge didn’t seem to realize much of anything -- that Eisenman was there at all, that they were having a conversation.

Eisenman walked around the corner, just off the bridge on the Capitol side, and surreptitiously called 911, telling them to look for the bicycle. She was feeling a little eager to have this man sitting on the bridge be someone else’s responsibility.

But when she looked back to check on the man, he and his bike were gone.

She canceled the call and set off across the bridge. She hadn’t seen him pass by, so she headed back toward the cathedral. She found him a couple of blocks away, lying on the sidewalk with his bike. He was sobbing.

Eisenman didn’t know what to do. What could she possibly say to somebody who might have been moments from throwing himself off a bridge? She couldn’t leave him -- the bridge was still there, only blocks away -- so she sat down and put her arm around his shoulder. She tried to start a few awkward conversations and finally came clean.

“I’ll be honest, these situations are way out of my depth,” she told him. Then by way of explanation, she added: “I’m a Taurus.” Eisenman says Tauruses are hopelessly bad at talking about their feelings.

He perked up. He was a Taurus, too. All of this -- the bridge, the crying, the desperate moment he was in -- this was not normally him.

“No one sees this side of me,” he told her. “I’m never like this.”

Well, Eisenman said, then something really serious has to be going on in your life to bring you to this moment.

“We don’t crack easily,” she said.

They started talking. The man from the bridge was 24 -- a father with a 6-year-old daughter. Eisenman had thought he was 30 by the look of him. They actually lived in the same neighborhood by the cathedral. He was making payments for the bike. Tauruses like nice things, Eisenman says.

He told her about his life -- the circumstances that led him to the bridge – and the whole time, Eisenman was texting with a friend, asking them to follow up with 911 and tell the responders where they were. She felt uncomfortable calling the police in front of the man, and besides, she worried he’d freak out and run.

They saw cops wandering around, but none of them came near. Perhaps the directions had been confusing. Perhaps the fact that he wasn’t on the bridge anymore made him low priority. If anything, Eisenman kept hoping they’d show up because she wasn’t sure what resources were out there for someone in the man’s situation.

Her friend kept texting her, asking if she was safe. She was, she said. She wasn’t sure what she was expecting from a person who’d been about to jump off a bridge, but she wasn't afraid.

“Well, you realize this isn’t about you anymore,” she told him. “If you jump off that bridge, that’s going to mess [your daughter] up for life.”

He agreed -- he honestly wasn’t sure at that point how he had gotten to so dark a place. Eisenman told him that when she had been 24, she’d gone through a dark spot in her life, too. She’d lost her best friend and the love of her life at the same time. She’d been heartbroken and scared. But then, doors had opened up. Her life had gotten better. And if she had ended it all then, she would have missed the getting better part.

She asked him how he copes with his depression. He told her he didn’t have a license, but he liked driving. Eisenman told him she copes with food. She went through a bad breakup the year before and went on a seafood bender at Crazy Cajun. She ended up gaining 35 pounds, and she was still dieting to recover from it.

The man laughed and said he’d gained a little weight recently, too.

Eisenman decided to make a deal with him. If he went home, texted her to let her know he was okay and kept in touch, in a couple weeks, when she was done with her diet, they could go to Crazy Cajun together. He agreed. He’s been texting her regularly since, letting her know he's doing all right, thinking about getting some help with his depression. Their dinner appointment is still on.

There seem to be a lot of people out there going through what the man on the bridge was going through, Eisenman says -- but maybe that’s just because she drives for a living. She gets a window into the mental health of strangers. Cops get that window too, she says, and people who work in hospitals.

The man on the bridge was as normal as could be.

Say Eisenman: “It could have been any one of us."

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also text Crisis Text Line for referral to dozens of other organizations; text HOME to 741741.